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500.A15 a 1/388: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Houghton) to the Secretary

of State


LONDON, July 8, 1927—5 p. m.

[Received July 8-2:25 p. m.] 157. Department's No. 151, July 7, 4 p. m. I saw Chamberlain at noon today, making it clear to him that I had come on my personal responsibility since I believed that it was my duty to acquaint him with the unfavorable impression created by the British naval proposals in the United States. I stated that while the change of sentiment there could not be forecast, there was a growing fear lest sacrifices made at Washington with regard to naval bases and ships had been in vain; and said that the belief appeared to be increasing that Great Britain was now endeavoring to return to her dominant position, after having succeeded in limiting the size of battleships, by constructing a quantity of small ships which were suited to her needs but not to ours. I encountered a most sympathetic attitude on the part of Chamberlain, who set forth the causes for the present position taken by Great Britain and stated that the tonnage demanded was based upon careful calculations which had been favorably passed upon by three succeeding governments of different parties. In reply I indicated that while I recognized their duty and right to provide for ships which might be necessary, I felt nevertheless that since the German fleet had virtually disappeared and other nations were unable financially to provide for extensive building programs, it was difficult to see the necessity for so great an increase in British tonnage at this time, especially since treaty stipulations would meet any necessity which might arise by reason of an important building program on the part of any other nation. I then asked Chamberlain whether, under any conceivable circumstances, Great Britain could regard America as an enemy and received a vehement answer in the negative, together with a statement that any war between America and the British Empire would inevitably lead to the disintegration of the latter. In the subsequent discussion of a possible program Chamberlain made the complaint that whenever an offer was advanced by the British to reduce total tonnage the American representatives insisted that the United States would build only cruisers of a large size. He said further that Great Britain had already conceded equality in ratio but was unable to yield in the matter of permitting superiority in large cruisers to be established by the United States. In answering this objection I


stated that, while I was unable to speak authoritatively, the assumption that if a low enough total tonnage were agreed upon the adjustment of classes of cruisers should not present any insuperable difficulty seemed to me mere common sense.

At the end of our conversation Chamberlain expressed his thanks and indicated that the gravity of the situation was fully appreciated by him and that, while not hopeful, he would at once consult Baldwin and Lord Balfour. 55 He added that within a day or two he would see me again. Any further developments will, of course, be fully reported to you.

By reason of my talk with Chamberlain, I am again impressed with the fact that a very mature and carefully worked out plan is being followed by the British delegates at Geneva. Nevertheless, I am certain that what I said about the effect of British proposals on the people of the United States, as well as on the other peoples of the world, did not fail to impress Chamberlain. I believe that should it be possible to keep total tonnage under 400,000 tons it will be regarded in London, and should be regarded by us, as a material concession to the American views. I venture to suggest that our own representatives do nothing meanwhile to weaken the position taken by me.


500.A15 a 1/395 : Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Houghton) to the Secretary

of State

LONDON, July 9, 1927—10 a. m.

[Received July 9—7:22 a. m.] 158. Last evening I received the following communication from Chamberlain:

“I immediately communicated to the Prime Minister and the colleagues whom I named to you the substance of the conversation of this morning, and this evening we met to discuss it with the close attention which it required.

We are at this moment expecting further telegrams of great importance from our delegation at Geneva which may have a very important bearing on the points you and I discussed. We must, therefore, await them before taking any decision. It is possible that they may require personal consultation with the representatives and that we may, therefore, have to ask for a short adjournment at Geneva, but I hope in any case to be in a position to make a further communication to you on Monday.

** Arthur James, Lord Balfour, Lord President of the Council ; Lord Balfour was head of the British delegation at the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armament, 1921–1922.

We greatly appreciate the friendly feelings which inspired your initiative. We, ourselves, are much concerned at the course which the public discussion of these questions has taken and we shall, you may be sure, do anything we can to find a solution on which all can agree.”


500.A15 a 1/402

The British Embassy to the Department of State


His Majesty's Ambassador has been desired by His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to make the following communication to the Secretary of State in explanation of the attitude adopted by His Majesty's Government at the Three Power Naval Conference now proceeding at Geneva. This communication is practically identical with that which was made two days ago at Geneva by Mr. Bridgeman, First Lord of the Admiralty, to the American Delegation.58

His Majesty's Government in Great Britain has always sympathized with President Coolidge's desire to carry out yet further work of naval disarmament which was begun at Washington in 1921– 1922 with such happy results. Geneva Conference was therefore begun under fortunate auspices and has, so far as His Majesty's Government are able to judge, been doing much valuable work. But they note with regret that in certain quarters their policy has been misunderstood and in consequence misrepresented.

The essential principles accepted at the Washington Conference referred only to capital ships and aircraft carriers: and with regard to these it was agreed between three leading naval Powers that they would accept for a period of at least ten years certain limitations as to numbers, armament, tonnage and replacement.

If the Washington policy is now to be extended it can only be in one or both of two ways. The cost of capital ships may be still further reduced and limitations may be devised in respect of vessels other than capital ships-i. e., vessels about which the Treaty of Washington is silent. On both of these possible lines of advance the British delegation was instructed to lay suggestions before the Conference.

In regard to the first of them, however, they desire to say nothing at the present moment. In deference to what they understand to be the desire of the Conference they reserve their proposals until a later stage. His Majesty's Government do not think these proposals

Presumably the conversations reported by Mr. Gibson in telegram No. 63, July 6, 6 p. m., p. 64.

are likely to occasion any serious difficulty, but it is clear it is under this head that the most important economies may be anticipated. The questions raised by any proposal to limit the number of cruisers are of a more complex character. The suggestions of His Majesty's Government are broadly as follows:

They propose to divide cruisers into two classes—heavy and light; and to adopt for heavy class the same principles as those adopted at Washington in the case of capital ships. They think, in other words, that their size and armament might with advantage be limited and that the numbers permitted to each treaty power should be in the Washington ratio.

This seems to His Majesty's Government to be a reasonable application of an accepted principle to the case of heavy cruisers. But when light cruisers come to be considered wholly different conditions must be taken into account.

It is of course true that a fleet of a given size requires auxiliary vessels of a given number whatever may be the position of the country to which the fleet belongs or seas in which it is required to operate. On this point there need be no dispute. But in addition to these auxiliary vessels cruisers are required by all maritime countries to perform duties quite unconnected with organized fleets and by no country so much as by the British Empire.

Special position is of course due to a geographical subdivision which has no parallel in history. In times of peace small difficulties and disorders wholly without international significance which in states differently situated would be dealt with by police or a frontier guard may often make it necessary to send cruisers. In times of war the insular position of Great Britain and the seas which divide it from its colonies and from self-governing communities with which it is associated within the Empire present even greater difficulties—difficulties not always present to the imagination of those who live and think in terms of great continents. During the Washington Conference this point was dealt with by Mr. Balfour in words which it may be worth while to recall.57 "Most of my audience (he said) are citizens of the United States. The United States stands solid, impregnable, self-sufficient, all its essential lines of communication com pletely protected from any conceivable hostile attack.

“It is not merely that you are a hundred and ten million population; it is not merely that you are the wealthiest country in the world; it is that configuration of your country is such that you are wholly immune from particular perils to which from nature of the case the British Empire is subject.

* For text of Mr. Balfour's address at the second plenary session of the Washington Conference, see Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, November 12, 1921-February 6, 1922 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1922), pp. 96 tr.

“Suppose for example that your Western States were suddenly removed ten thousand miles across the sea. Suppose that the very heart of your Empire was a small and crowded island depending upon overseas trade, not merely for its luxuries, but for the raw material of those manufacturers [sic] by which its superabundant population lives and for the food upon which they subsist. Suppose that it was a familiar thought that there was never a moment of the year when within the limits of your state there was more than seven week's food for its population and that food could only be replenished by overseas communication. If you will draw this picture and if you will realize all that it implies you will understand why it is that no citizen of the British Empire, whether he be drawn from the far Dominions of the Pacific or lives in a small island in the North Sea, can ever forget that it is by sea communication that he lives and that without the sea communication he and the Empire to which he belongs would perish together.”

How can an Empire thus situated voluntarily surrender its right to live? How can it abandon by formal treaty the possibility of cooperation in mutual defence between communities which owe a common allegiance though divided from each other by all oceans.

These are considerations which may surely appeal to all. Yet it has been stated that the objection felt to surrender of the liberty to construct a fleet required by the special conditions of the British Empire is due, not to inevitable necessities of self-defence, but to an arrogant desire for maritime superiority. Great Britain, it has been said, refuses “parity” to the United States. The statement has already been formally contradicted. It is wholly without foundation. What are the facts! The President of the United States has invited the British Government to take part in a conference summoned to diminish the burden of naval armaments. They gladly responded to the call. They accept the principle announced by Mr. Gibson (who presides over the Conference) the principle that the navies should be maintained at the lowest level compatible with national security". They do not dispute the right of the United States to build cruisers in numbers sufficient to secure this object, but they cannot surrender a similar right for themselves. It is their manifest interest to build no more than they must; it is not less their duty and their intention to promote the world's desire for a diminution of armaments. They do not for a moment suppose the United States, which has summoned the Conference to further this great ideal, will ever be influenced in their naval policy by any motive but desire for national security or that in their estimate of naval requirements of different states the geographical considerations will be ignored.

WASHINGTON, 9 July, 1927.

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